Learning to be Philosophical About Three-Outers

by Lou on September 29, 2005

Last night I played, as I usually do, in the Royal Vegas Poker’s weekly Play the Experts tournament, where entrants who knock out Mike Cappelletti, Max Shapiro, Barbara Enright, Matt Lessinger, Rose Richie, Dr. Al Schoonmaker, or me win a $50 bounty, a T-shirt saying “I knocked out the expert,” and a book.

As much as I realize that we’re wearing targets on our back, it is always frustrating when someone catches a three-outer to KO me. That happened again last night. I was holding Ad-Kd and went all-in with about 5,000 chips and was called by one of the chip leaders who had 20,000 chips. He called with K-3 offsuit. The flop was K-9-4 of mixed suits; the turn was a 7, and the river was another trey. It paired his kicker at odds slightly greater than 14-to-1 and I was eliminated.

The lesson in all of this is that when you’re a bounty, you can expect to be called in situations where another player would not be. The cash bounty, the T-shirt, and the autographed book are all a form of laying odds and often makes it correct for opponents to call you in situations where they would fold if those additional goodies weren’t tossed into the hopper.

It’s also taught me that going all-in is riskier than one might imagine, because the more you risk all your chips, the more likely it is that you’ll lose them. After all, it’s simple arithmetic. If I have a 70 percent chance of winning a given encounter, that looks pretty good. But if I take that risk just twice, I figure to lose one of them. Just multiply. 70 percent times 70 percent is 49 percent, and the sad truth inside the numbers is that I don’t figure to survive two attempts to win confrontations where I have a seventy percent chance of winning either one of them, when they are considered individually.

If I go in with far the best of it — a 70 percent chance of winning is clearly very favorable — and repeat this situation four times, the prognostication becomes dismal: I figure to survive all four confrontations a bit less than one-quarter of the time.

The message in this bottle is to be very careful about going all-in when you think you will be called because the reward is only a few more chips — or maybe even a lot more chips — but so what? The potential loss is your tournament life. Even the situation I was in, where my opponent would be a 7-to-1 underdog from the flop to the river, was dangerous. Nevertheless, with odds that good it’s a play you’d have to make every time if you knew what your opponent’s cards were because you figure to win 87.5 percent of the time, and you’d have to play through this same scenario six times until you are statistically less than even money to win all of them.

Probability is a funny thing. Sometimes a circumstance that is statistically very favorable in any given instance figures to knock you flat on your ass if you repeat it a sufficient number of times. What’s worse is that the sufficient number of times may only be two or three.

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